Population changes in the Black Hills could make it easier for the Forest Service to justify changes to forest management that could affect the local economy.
The June 2022 Forest Plan Revision Draft Assessment of Socioeconomics (on which the Forest Service is formally taking public comment through August 1) reports that the seven counties in the Black Hills National Forest area of influence (Pennington, Meade, Lawrence, Custer, and Fall River in South Dakota; Crook and Weston in Wyoming) experienced a higher population growth rate than South Dakota, Wyoming, or the United States as a whole. Census data also show that the Black Hills population skews older than the South Dakota, Wyoming, and national medians:
The entire nation is aging—last year, only Maine saw its median age decrease, and Maine already has a median age of 44.7, well above the national median. But Custer and Fall River are among a small number of counties nationwide with a median age higher than 50. The only other county in South Dakota with a majority of its population over 50 is Campbell County, where the median age is 50.6.
This draft Socioeconomics assessment says the only age group that grew percentagewise in the Black Hills over the past decade was the retiree class; numbers of kids and working-age folks declined:
The Forest Service does consider the impact that changes to forest management policy may have on working people. The fewer working people, the less the Forest Service has to consider such impacts:
A population’s age can also help inform how to interpret population changes and economic conditions. An area with a large percentage of retirees earns income primarily from investments and transfer payments (for example, dividends and Social Security), rather than salaries and wages. Therefore, this population may be less sensitive to changes in forest management that impact jobs and salaries than other age groups. growth [Forest Service, June 2022, p. 5].
Recruit a bunch of retirees to move to the Hills, and the Forest Service may not have to worry as much about whether forest conservation practices will cause job losses, because fewer folks living in and around the forest will be out looking for jobs… and, arguably, more of the younger folks will be making their living providing services to those older folks, not wresting their living from the Hills themselves.